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as seen on phillyBurbs.com

Let 'em fight
A former NHL bully longs to bring back glory days.

Friday night's free-for-all fisticuffs in the final minutes of the Flyers-Senators game was a throwback to the days when Craig Berube first entered pro hockey 18 years ago.

The sport has changed much since then.

A wave of skilled players from Europe and Russia crashed into the league, leading teams to develop the trap-zone defense to slow them down. Instead of charging into the offensive zone full force, forwards now dump the puck in and take their chances along the boards.

Like any fan of the game, Berube - one of the fiercest Flyers ever to lace 'em up - knows what that has meant.

"The game has gotten a bit more boring," the veteran enforcer said last week, while discussing his upcoming retirement to the bench of the minor league Philadelphia Phantoms after the season's over. "We've got to put the excitement back in it."

And if that means letting the players fight, so be it.

"It used to be automatic that you would fight," the 38-year-old left winger/assistant coach for the Phantoms recalled. "Nowadays, with the instigator rule, you get a game misconduct. That's a lot."

Berube, a native of Calahoo, Alberta, known as "Chief" because of his Indian ancestry, should know.

Although he's twice as old as many of the teammates he now coaches on and off the ice, Berube sat out a game recently after hitting the Hershey Bears' Agris Saviels from behind last month.

"It was an accident," Berube insisted.

Yeah, right.

I still know one Devils' fan who uses his last name as if it were a curse word, saying his stints with the Flyers - from 1986-'91 and 1999 - marked him as one of the dirtiest goons in the game. In the NHL, he racked up 3,149 career penalty minutes in 1,054 games to go along with 61 goals.

Yet, when pressed on who his toughest opponent was, Berube says his hardest fights were with fellow left winger Bob Probert, formerly of Detroit and Chicago before he retired two years ago, not Devils' longtime defenseman Scott Stevens.

Stevens, who has not played since Jan. 7 because of post-concussion syndrome, has just begun skating again. Meanwhile, Berube couldn't recall a single injury in his career that kept him off the ice very long.

"I've been lucky," he said.

That also applies to this, his final season as a pro with the Phantoms, who are fighting for first place in the American Hockey League's Eastern Division and a chance at their first Calder Cup in six years.

Released by the Calgary Flames last year, "I thought, 'This is it.' I kind of knew. I was getting older," said Berube. He moved to Buckingham, in Upper Bucks County (his wife Rebecca hails from Richboro) and trained throughout the summer, hoping an NHL team would call him to camp.

He had just about given up hope, when Flyers assistant general manager Paul Holmgren signed him to a contract with the Phantoms as a player in November. The title assistant coach was added a few months later and he recently signed a full-time coaching contract with the team that kicks in after this season.

If he has one lesson he wants to impart to his young players itching to join the Flyers, it's "Enjoy it! It goes by quick.

"Even when the coach is yelling at you and things are going wrong, enjoy it. When it's over, you'll regret not having fun."

Dave Ralis' Pave The Grass column appears on Mondays. You can send him an e-mail at  or call him at 215-269-5051. To read his previous columns, click here.

March 8, 2004